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Film Review: Prometheus

In a homecoming of sorts, Ridley Scott returns to the same universe of his classic Alien (1979), with Prometheus. Although not a direct prequel, there’re always dangers when referring to past works and perhaps issues about whether or not the new one can be judged on its own terms.

Among the remains of several unconnected past-cultures, archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discovers a star-chart, which she believes to be an invitation to find mankind’s creators. The crew of the starship Prometheus, including Shaw and the android David (Michael Fassbender), follow the map and begin a mission to discover ancient-aliens; that could threaten the entire human race.

Scott is a director known for spectacular visuals and, as anticipated, they’re great in Prometheus. The “top-of-the-range” eponymous ship is bright, angular, clean; yet claustrophobic. The explored planet and its structures contrast with the ship; they’re dark, smoother and less confined. The settings manage to seem both supernatural and authentic; following H. R. Giger’s original concepts helps, as well as shooting on real sets and on-location when it could’ve easily been green-screened instead. The impressive design work helps the film to inspire awe in its characters and audience.

The talent continues in front of the camera too, with the always good Rapace and Fassbender as the leads. Somewhat evoking Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw is an intelligent and strong female lead, tougher than she initially seems. But it’s Fassbender’s David who steals the film; though apparently soulless, his performance as the robot reveals hidden insecurities and a sense of wonder that outdoes the human roles. In the Ridley Scott cannon, he’s closer to Blade Runner’s (1982) replicants than the Alien series’ synthetics. Consequently, most of the other characters appear less interesting, less memorable and add little of note, apart from strong accents. Because in space everyone can hear where you’re from.

Prometheus is tense, engrossing and keeps you speculating about what’ll happen next. It also isn’t afraid to raise big questions, like “who made us?” Going back to the Alien universe, literally and figuratively before it all went wrong, there’s the possibility of telling a story that never need to be told or examining aspects that were fine as enigmas. Nevertheless, the film doesn’t treat its audience as fools and it doesn’t waste time constantly explaining everything, or spelling out what’s going on. However, it wasn’t particularly subtle to name the film and its ship after a titan, who bothered the gods and really really paid for it. Looking at the pair, I think Scott has actually underplayed its strong links to and similarities with Alien; but most importantly Prometheus is its own film and it works very well on its own terms.

- Jon Bartholomew

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